No aid for America's bad image

Published December 30, 2004 6:52PM (EST)

By lying low in the wake of the Asian tsunami, and then surfacing to pledge the relatively small amount of $35 million in relief aid, has President Bush squandered an opportunity to mend America's image abroad? It's a provocative question posed by David Sanger in the New York Times Thursday, in which he quotes Morton Abramowitz, who served as American ambassador to Thailand a quarter century ago and went on to become one of the founders of the International Crisis Group, which helps prepare governments to respond to unexpected shocks. "It's a tragedy but it is also an opportunity to demonstrate that terrorism doesn't drive out everything else," Abramowitz said. "It's a chance for him to show what kind of country we are."

On its op-ed page, the Times strikes a harsh chord about what kind of country we are showing the world just now: "We hope Secretary of State Colin Powell was privately embarrassed when, two days into a catastrophic disaster that hit 12 of the world's poorer countries and will cost billions of dollars to meliorate, he held a press conference to say that America, the world's richest nation, would contribute $15 million. That's less than half of what Republicans plan to spend on the Bush inaugural festivities." The editorial continues: "The American aid figure for the current disaster is now $35 million, and we applaud Mr. Bush's turnaround. But $35 million remains a miserly drop in the bucket, and is in keeping with the pitiful amount of the United States budget that we allocate for nonmilitary foreign aid. According to a poll, most Americans believe the United States spends 24 percent of its budget on aid to poor countries; it actually spends well under a quarter of 1 percent."

By Kevin Berger

Kevin Berger is the former features editor at Salon.

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